Ethiopia Ex-minister: Nigeria’s Quest for $300M Will Bridge Malaria Funding Gap

Kesete Admasu

Dr. Kesete Admasu is the former Minister of Health, Ethiopia, and the current Chief Executive Officer, Roll Back Malaria Partnership to End Malaria. In this exclusive interview with Martins Ifijeh, he said Nigeria’s quest for $300 million will help bridge substantial malaria funding gaps in 13 states of the country. He also spoke on other ways of addressing malaria burden globally. Excerpts:

In your last interview with THISDAY, you mentioned Nigeria has a huge funding gap in the fight against malaria. But the government responded that it was doing its best and that it would meet the year 2030 deadline. What is your take on this?

Nigeria has the highest burden of malaria worldwide. The challenges to overcome, including the funding objectives, are significant, so it is very encouraging to see Nigeria working hard to try and resolve the funding gap in the fight against malaria. In fact, the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership is providing technical assistance to the government of Nigeria in its effort to mobilise 300 million dollars from the World Bank, African Development Bank, and the Islamic Development Bank. If these resources are made available, it will help bridge the substantial gaps in 13 states in Nigeria. It is important that government in all countries remain accountable and bridge the funding gaps so that they can better serve the most vulnerable.

What is the consequence of the present stalled progress in the fight against Malaria?

After years of unprecedented progress since the year 2000, we have started to see stalling of progress in the fight against malaria over the last two years. This should serve as a wakeup call and warrants an urgent response. Otherwise, with flat lining of funding, complacency, and population growth, we will not be able to meet the ambitious 2030 goals. This means the most vulnerable communities, women and children, and the poor will continue to suffer from the consequences of malaria.

As malaria is the disease of poverty, communities will be trapped in poverty because of lack of progress in the fight against the scourge. In short, as history teaches us, unless we take a decisive action now, the risk of reversal of the massive gains we have in the fight against malaria is real and it is the poor and most vulnerable communities who will pay the highest price. Therefore, we must continue the effort to protect hard-earned progress and reignite the pace of progress toward our goal of ending malaria.

What is the role of RBM in the fight against this burden?

The 500+ members of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria are committed to working together to turn the tide back towards our global goal to end malaria. The fight against malaria needs renewed vigour. ‘Business as usual’ is no longer an option when it comes to fighting malaria. We need better data, closer coordination among partners on the ground, and new and improved tools that will help us counter emerging resistance and other threats. By working together as the RBM Partnership, it is more likely that this will be achieved.

We strongly believe the “high burden” response’s aggressive new approach, supported by the entire RBM Partnership, will jumpstart progress against malaria and builds on a year of renewed attention to the malaria fight.

You were once a Minister of Health in Ethiopia. You know the challenges faced by health ministries across Africa in achieving healthcare goals. What advice would you give to various governments and their health ministries in the fight against public health issues like malaria?

Achieving healthcare goals in any country requires political commitment and country ownership. It is of paramount importance to make sure that countries and specially governments are on the driving seat to define the public health priorities and strategies which fit the specific context of each country. So, my advice is simple, define your priorities, own and lead the strategies, form a guiding coalition across governments (both national and sub-national) and societies, and focus on results. With such high stakes, it is critical that all parts of society come together to help beat the disease. Government and health ministries are essential for making high level decisions and investment, and so we must ensure that those at the highest levels are engaged with the fight to ensure that the 2030 malaria goals are met.

Considering that Nigeria constitutes 27 per cent of the global burden, don’t you think the country needs increased attention from the likes of RBM, philanthropic organisations and development partners in the fight against malaria?

For the world to meet its 2030 malaria goals, Nigeria and other high burden countries have to make massive improvements in the fight against malaria. The new “High burden to high impact” response plan recognises the need to provide additional support to the 11 countries (that contribute to 70 per cent of the global malaria burden) with the highest burden of malaria, including Nigeria. With urgent action being taken by the highest burden countries, supporting their efforts is critical to protecting hard-earned progress and accelerating toward our goal of ending malaria. Governments, research, philanthropic, business and non-government organisation partners are stepping up their shared commitment to support the communities and countries most affected by malaria.

Over the last year, several initiatives to provide increased support to high burden countries such as Nigeria have been implemented, including: 53 leaders of the Commonwealth pledged to halve malaria in the Commonwealth by 2023; $4.1B pledged by global leaders to advance the malaria fight (R&D for strong pipeline of new tools); eight countries across the Sahel launched the Sahel Malaria Elimination Initiative committing to share best practices and resources; 16 countries committed new resources and cross-border collaboration; “Zero Malaria Starts with Me”, a grassroots campaign that empowers people to take responsibility for ending malaria, launched across Africa with support from the African Union and the RBM Partnership

Many Nigerians do not like using long lasting insecticide treated nets. Are there other options?

This year’s World malaria report shows that we are seeing more people at risk of malaria being protected by insecticide treated bed nets, with a rise in both household ownership and use of ITNs. Key to this has been finding ways to improve efficiency and deliver more bed nets and other life- saving commodities than ever before.

Although we still have a way to go in reaching the target for universal coverage, increased access to this core tool is an encouraging step. Nigerians should embrace this life saving tool, and encourage their families, friends and neighbours to use them too, as they are simple method to protect yourself and your family from malaria.